||Issue No. 125||22 February 2002|
Unfair and Dismal
Interview: If Not Now, When?
Activists: Fighting Back
Industrial: Croon And Divide
Politics: Politics of Extinction
History: Harry Bridges: International Labour Hero
International: Rats in the Ranks
Review: Follow The Fence, Find The Truth
Satire: Howard Screws Refugee Kids: G-G Turns Blind Eye
Poetry: Let It Be
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Give Us a Spray!
Harry Bridges: International Labour Hero
Legends never die. And so on Harry Bridges' 100th birthday, the US wharfies he led for 40 years decided to celebrate in style, inviting waterside workers the world over to join them. And Harry was there, in spirit, right among them.
Ports shut down and around 8000 workers marched across the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro closing the city down.
Among the many workers celebrating Harry's 100th was a delegation of Australian maritime workers led by National Secretary Paddy Crumlin.
"Bridges understood that workers had to struggle and fight for a fair go. You don't inherit it. And it can only be achieved by acting together, not individually. These are issues that are just as relevant today. He was a great man, a great worker."
The Australians were guests of honour, marching up front beside the ILWU. For it was Australia where Harry Bridges, the founder of the great union, had his humble beginnings.
Harry was a Melbourne lad who ran away to sea, jumping ship in San Francisco in 1920 after surviving a national strike and two shipwrecks.
Bridges paid a 'head tax' to secure legal alien status and within two years was working on the docks.
There the Bull system was in full swing. The same as on the Australian wharves, hungry men scrambled for jobs. Conditions were bad, but Harry helped his fellow workers organise to replace the company union. He was blacklisted from jobs until 1927. By the thirties Harry headed a militant group on the waterfront that the bosses refused to recognise. In 1934 the men shut the waterfront down. Longshoremen from Bellingham to San Diego joined them. Police were called in and things turned ugly.
May 9, 1934: Bloody Thursday. Hundreds of men were injured, two gunned down and killed by police.
Bridges was offered a $50,000 bribe to back off the docker's demand for a hiring hall. He refused. Union after union joined the longshoremen in a general strike.
To this day US wharfies still have their hiring hall and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is still one of the most militant and respected unions in the world.
Harry retired in 1977. And after his death in 1990, the ILWU established the Harry Bridges Institute which brought the waterside workers together for his birthday celebrations.
The delegations were met at the airport by a black limousine courtesy of the ILWU.
"It was unforgettable," said Melbourne wharfie Keiren Coyle. "The hospitality was something you never forget."
"They treated us like kings," said Brisbane delegate Les Raywood.
Along with Brisbane deputy secretary Trevor Munday, Les also attended a local 13 executive board meeting on the 26th to get an insight into the democratic process of the ILWU locals.
"The local officials are only elected for four years then it's back under the hook," said Les. "It's a fantastic idea. It gives everyone a roll through."
The big event was the march on July 28, the day that marks the birth of Harry Bridges. It was preceded by a motorcade of teamsters trucks, bikes and vintage cars.
"It was a moment that will remain forever etched in my memory," said Trevor Munday.
"Absolutely sensational," said Melbourne delegate Bob Patchett. "We were up front only 100 metres from the ilwu banner leading the march. (ILWU leaders) Jimmy and Big Bob requested we stand side by side. It was a huge honour."
On the last day of the birthday celebrations delegates were invited on a boat cruise. MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin and the President of the Harry Bridges Institute Dave Arian laid a wreath at sea in memory of Harry before the MUA contingent performed what Trevor Munday describes as 'a raspy rendition' of Waltzing Matilda.
"Singing alongside was our mate from across the Tasman, Terry Ryan," he said. "He's a beauty Terry, every time they took a photo of the Aussie delegation he would stick up a NZ sign at the back (see cover).
"We added to our performance by bleating out a chorus of the Slim Dusty tune I love to have a beer with Duncan, of course suitably changing the lyrics to I'd love to have a beer with Harry."
The Anniversary was followed by a Dockers Solidarity Conference hosted by the ILWU.
Crumlin thanked the ILWU for their great support during the Patrick lockout, especially the black ban on the Columbus Canada which eventually returned to New Zealand and was reloaded by union labour before the ILWU allowed it to enter the US.
"I think they hold us in high regard for what we went through during the lockout," said Bob Patchet. "A special bond came from the dispute. What helped turn it around was the Columbus Canada. That pulled us really close together."
Keiran Coyle said the most important thing that came out of the conference for him was how many things we all had in common.
"It doesn't matter where working class people are throughout the world," he said. "We've all got the same problems. What happened to the Charleston 5 is pretty much what happened with us when we got sacked."
Some ports of the world are worse than others, some are better, but we're all concerned by casualisation, conditions, health and safety. And we've all got the same goals -- quality of life, good working conditions, a better future for our kids -- working class people the world over are the same."
"Every problem we have in Australia is common worldwide," said Sydney wharfie and delegate Bob Lee. "If we don't go global we'll be left behind the billy cart."
"Everyone seems to have the same problems," said Les Raywood. "Like bosses trying to squeeze everything out of you. But they've got the pool like we did 20 years ago. They seem to have bosses under control in LA."
Mark Rees, a Port kembla wharfie was put up with a longshore family for a week. "They treated us as one of their own," he said. "Just to see a union that big and that strong and that organised was a really good thing."
In his report to National Council Paddy Crumlin stressed that dock workers internationally were facing the same problems of casualisation, contracting out the use of non-union labour and constant pressure from often the same employers.
"In this environment a strong bond between our two unions, seen to be amongst the most militant and progressive in the world, can only further the interests of our members."
Council then determined "to build closer relations with the ILWU with the objective of protecting and advancing the interests of the members of both unions and the working class generally. These closer relations will include the development of exchange delegations, joint political and industrial activity and sharing of resources to strengthen workers rights in a global environment antagonistic to the development of the labour movement."
Council thanked ILWU officers, staff members and retired members and in particular local 13 who hosted the event during the Harry Bridges Anniversary and Solidarity Conference.
"We went over there to celebrate Harry's birthday, attend the solidarity conference and let them know how indebted we are to the ilwu," said Bob Patchett. "But they made us feel they still owed us. That's how great they were towards us. It feels like they are a part of us now and we'd do anything and everything to protect them if anything happened."
Officials attending the celebrations were NSW Secretary Mark Armstrong, Northern NSW Deputy Branch Secretary Len Covell and Southern Queensland Deputy Branch Secretary Trevor Munday.
Deputy National Secretary Mick O'Leary led a second delegation to LA in October.
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